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UB researcher receives grant from family foundation dedicated to autism research


Sat, Jan 9th 2016 07:00 am

Yan's research demonstrating how autism could be rescued attracted attention from the Nancy Lurie Marks Foundation

A private foundation dedicated to research on autism spectrum disorders and similar conditions has awarded a $540,000 grant to Zhen Yan, Ph.D., professor of physiology and biophysics in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo.

The Nancy Lurie Marks Foundation does not accept unsolicited grant proposals; instead, it invites researchers who are doing innovative work to submit proposals.

The foundation became interested in Yan's research after she published research last May in Cell Reports, describing how her team reversed certain disruptions of neuronal communication stemming from the deletion of the Shank3 gene, which results in autism-like behaviors in an animal model.

The UB scientists found the disruption of this neuronal communication results from the dysregulation of actin filaments, a kind of cellular "highway" in the brain's prefrontal cortex, the command center for high-level executive functions and a key region implicated in ASD.

Yan and her colleagues found that, once the expression or activity of certain actin regulators was returned to normal, which allowed for the normal trafficking and functioning of important neuronal receptors, they were able to restore social behaviors in these mice.

She will use the funding, which begins in February, to extend her research on novel therapeutic strategies for autism by finding an effective treatment for patients with ASD who have genetic deletion or loss-of-function mutations of Shank3. She also will study how these findings might be applied to treating ASD when other genetic mutations are implicated.

Founded in 1846, the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo is beginning a new chapter in its history with the largest medical education building under construction in the nation. The eight-story, 628,000-square-foot facility is scheduled to open in 2017. The new location puts superior medical education, clinical care and pioneering research in close proximity, anchoring Buffalo's evolving comprehensive academic health center in a vibrant downtown setting. These new facilities will better enable the school to advance health and wellness across the life span for the people of New York and the world through research, clinical care and the education of tomorrow's leaders in health care and biomedical sciences. The school's faculty and residents provide care for the community's diverse populations through strong clinical partnerships and the school's practice plan, UBMD.

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